ASVO (Association of Volunteers for service in protected areas) is a voluntary organisation based in Costa Rica. Their mission is to help protect endangered sea turtles & to educate local communities & tourists about the challenges facing these wonderful creatures. In addition, they seek to raise awareness about the plight of the oceans & beaches.
I spent a week at the project in Montezuma, in November 2016. There were roughly 13 volunteers there at the time, hailing from all over the world. The accommodation is basic, but you get three Costa Rican meals a day & there was always water for showers. Montezuma is a bohemian beach town in Costa Rica, famous for surfing, hikes & of course the wildlife.
ASVO monitor the beaches for nesting sea turtles staying at a safe distance so as not to disturb the natural process. Once the mother returns to the sea the eggs are collected, very carefully, & moved to the hatchery.
The hatchery is monitored 24 hours a day by volunteers working in 6 hour shifts. The main risk to the eggs is from raccoons & other predators as poaching is - thankfully -uncommon in this area. All nests are covered & dated so we know how many eggs are in the nest & when they should hatch.
As well as monitoring the hatchery volunteers patrol the beach at night in search of nesting turtles & perform beach clean ups. Due to the currents in the area there is a significant amount of trash & debris on the beach which is a risk to all life in the area.
During my week I was incredibly lucky to assist four nests. The hatching process begins after night fall & can take anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours.
The babies expend an incredible amount of energy getting out of the nest & our job was to collect them from the nest & take them to the beach in batches.
Once on the beach, we would clear an area of sand approximately 10 meters from the sea & release the turtles on to it. Instinctively they will make their way to the ocean & once they feel the water, they swim like crazy! I personally hand delivered over 100 babies onto the beach which was an experience I will never forget. Of 1000 turtles released, 1 or 2 will survive to adulthood so helping them reach the ocean is incredibly important.
Not all turtles will make it out of the nest. A day after the nests hatch we would dig the nest open & search for any remaining babies. Some eggs will naturally not hatch whereas others are trapped in the sand & need extra help. Tourists would come during the day to watch this process which would allow us to explain the organisations background.
ASVO rely on volunteers & donations. The cost of one week on the placement is around £350 & it truly is money well spent. Releasing sea turtles is something I will never forget. The emotions are indescribable! If you find yourself in Costa Rica, get involved.
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